Experiments with humans! (Insert evil laugh here.)

I’m still here! And guess what, I’m running experiments – again, but this time we’ve added an interesting factor: people!

Experiments with people are always critical, even if it’s only something trivial like asking the participants to answer a few questions in an online survey. Any kind of study – conducted by undergraduate, postgraduate or PhD students, as well as research staff at the university – that involves human participants must be approved by the university’s Ethics Committee in order to ensure that the research methodology is appropriate, the researchers are not wasting the participants’ time, and they’re not put into any potentially dangerous situations.

In order to fill in the 14 page application form (font size 9!), I had to bury my head in books for a few days and teach myself a lot about research study design (apparently having a progress bar in an online questionnaire gets people to complete the study rather than having no indication of progress – I didn’t even think anyone would bother to test this claim! 😉 [1]) as well as dive deep into the wonderful world of statistics.

At first, trying to follow any statistics related discussions seemed completely impossible, but I slowly (reading, googling, looking at examples, then start all over again) began to grasp what mean, standard deviation, p-values, normal distributions, sample sizes, chi-square and two tailed t-tests were all about. I’m still far from actually understanding all the tiny little details, but I managed to get enough to fill in the, uhm, “epic” application form. As annoying the ethics approval process seemed at first for our fairly straight-forward study, it got me to think about the exact methodology and spot potential problems before collecting any data, which was absolutely invaluable. I don’t want to imagine running experiments with dozens of participants and figure out afterwards that I didn’t actually collect the information I wanted!

Fortunately, there are some very helpful information pages about research ethics at the School of Computer Science. If you’re planning to run some tests with users for your 3rd year or MSc project, make sure to check them out as early as possible!

So you’re wondering what the study is about? Top secret 😉 If it all goes well, I might write about it and the results soon on this blog.

And because we all love food: Situated on Oxford Road just opposite the All Saints park is 8th Day, an organic grocery shop with a restaurant/cafeteria in the basement. The food in the cafe is pretty solid (stews, veggie lasagna, dhaal…) and a teeny tiny bit on the pricey side, but a nice bellywarming treat after a morning of work in a cold office. The true highlights however are the amazing chocolate-cherry slices sold in the shop upstairs (alongside take away lunch options like sandwiches and wraps) – incredibly sweet and absolutely delicious!

[1] M. P. COUPER, M. W. TRAUGOTT, and M. J. LAMIAS. Web survey design and administration. Public Opinion Quarterly, 65:230–253, 2001.